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Sunday, 30 June 2019

The Perils of Outside Funding

The ongoing problems at the City Farm in Camden illustrate the problems that Councils are dealing with as they are seeking to balance their budgets.  It is not hard to see that the Farm is currently loss making and has received advance warning that Camden Council will cut funding in 2022, possibly altogether.

The Board are then left trying to get a plan that will be credible in the long term.  Staff have responded with a short term rescue plan which sounds as if it will tide the organisation over briefly but not for long. 

This follows a donor offering to plug the gap temporarily but at the cost of firing the Board.  Firing the Board in such circumstances would make it hard to recruit anyone else, and also difficult to implement a longer term survival package.   The latest plan to be accepted by the board also seems to include as yet unspecified changes to staff contracts, which sound as if they are likely to be changed in a fairly one sided way.

It also testifies to the extraordinary degree of control that some rich individuals feel they should have over public institutions.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Active Borrowers at Brent Libraries

Despite the travails at Willesden Library, Brent Council is still claiming that:

"Brent has the 9th highest number of active borrowers in London out of 29 reporting authorities,increasing to 6th highest in Outer London."

This is some comfort after the fall in borrowing in last year's figures.  Hopefully, the current efforts to improve the presentation of the stock will help make the performance better this year.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Improved Accessibility at the Kiln Theatre

The Kiln Theatre and cinema has a vastly improved accessibility offer since it reopened with its current season.  Something that those who have been critical of its refurbishment would perhaps like to think about.  Above is a recent performance by a group to a ESOL audience

Thursday, 27 June 2019

The Momentum/JVL Split

To those of outside either of these groups, the split between them is hard to explain.  JVL in my view have repeatedly served as a body seeking to belittle complaints of antisemitism in the Labour Party that have led to the EHRC investigation

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Challenge in Peterborough By-election

We have occasionally seen talk of challenges to election results in Brent elections.  They usually amount to nothing.  The apparent challenge in Peterborough at least goes through the proper process of an application to the High Court.  I must say it is somewhat ironic that one of the key figures behind the widely criticised 2016 EU referendum should be suggesting abuse of process.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Snowflake to Appear at the Kiln Theatre at Christmas

Indhu Rubasingham yesterday announced that Snowflake will appear at the Kiln Theatre at Christmas.  The original was created for the Old Fire Station in Oxford, but the play is being reset for Kilburn. 

Monday, 24 June 2019

Brent Momentum Bulletin

I am indebted to Martin Francis for publishing the latest Brent Momentum bulletin.  It is good to see that the group remains in touch with its natural fan base. 

What is most striking is the absence of any interest in the Brexit issue, which if it goes through in its "no deal" format will lead to both social and economic collapse in the UK.

The second thing to note is that all the areas mentioned are complaints about Brent Council.  Momentum generally bills itself as leading the charge against the Conservative government, but in this document the Conservatives and any other party that opposes the Labour Party get largely ignored.  There seems to be little attention to the problems of the NHS and social services for example. 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Taking Back Control

Random Thought.

I wonder how those who believe in "taking back control" and glory in the sacredness of the democratic mandate from the Brexit referendum square that with the fact that tiny proportion of the population that belong to the Conservative Party are able to select the next Prime Minister?

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Queens Park Book Festival

The Queens Park book festival is set for 29 June to 30 June.  This has been going for some years, and has become well established. Whatever the LGCBE says, I doubt whether they will be changing its name to the "Kensal Green East" festival.

Friday, 21 June 2019

The Queensbury Planning Application Refused

The Queensbury application has been refused yet again.  I have no doubt this will please groups such as Save Our Queensbury, but at some stage a planning application for this site will be granted, because that is how the planning system works.  Sites cannot just be endlessly refused.  Each refusal comes with reasons, and eventually this will box the Planning Committee into what they can refuse and what they can't. 

This site will either be successfully appealed or there will be a new application at some point. 

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Protest at Willesden Library Centre

I have now been to the Brent Journey to Justice exhibition in the Brent Museum.  This runs through a number of American, British and local protest campaigns.

One that startled me was Brent's own Libraries Transformation Project which presents Brent Council in an unfavourable light with no mention for instance of its successful defence of the policy in the 2011-2012 judicial review or the Secretary of State's decision not to order a review.  This one sided approach is particularly notable given that the very building that houses the exhibition, Willesden Library Centre, would not exist if the litigants had had their way (a fact unmentioned in the exhibition).

The second is a note of praise for the Stop the war group who are described as organising anti-war activities in Brent.   This is at best a half truth since the group only seems to object to campaigns where British troops are committed not to more numerous and more deadly conflicts such as Syria.

I wonder if Brent Council is actually following its own guidelines on this?

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

European Elections 2019

I have now seen a ward break down for the European elections earlier this year, and they show a mixed picture from the Labour point of view.

For instance in Kensal Green, the Liberal Democrats beat Labour by a modest margin and the Greens came third.  The Brexit Party were a very poor fourth and the Tories came behind even Change UK.  In a parliamentary election on those figures the Tories would have lost their deposit.  It is an indication that local voters are very much of a "remain" orientation but without the remain vote have a natural home.  I think it also shows that the Labour Party's mixed Brexit stance really isn't working and is leading to a draining away of support, something the party urgently needs to correct.

Other parts of the Borough also have a mixed picture.

What this doesn't tell you much about is future elections since, barring Council by elections, the current ward boundaries will never be contested again.

Overall, Labour still won in Brent, with the Liberal Democrats a fairly poor second.  The Brexit Party was third, just ahead of the Tories and the Greens came fifth.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

How Many Council Houses Should Labour Plan to Build?

Red Brick blog asks how many Council houses should Labour plan to build?  In discussing the calls of a new campaign group, it asks the sensible question: "Do they really expect an incoming Labour chancellor to set a housing budget which is five times its current level and to be able to spend it from virtually a standing start?".

As we get closer to a General Election asking about the deliverability of Labour promises becomes more important.  If only because the electorate will need to believe the credibility of the promises that the Labour Party makes if it is going to vote for them.   That is not just about money.  It also involves trade offs around types of tenure, size of unit, availability of land and political resistance (sometimes from Labour's own councillors).

I am unsure how far the Party is prepared for these kind of questions. 

Monday, 17 June 2019

Apparent U-turn from Brent Green Party

I have been alerted to an apparent u-turn by Brent Greens, who have decided to change their policy to oppose the turning of libraries over to volunteers.  This follows years when they appeared to argue the complete opposite in respect of Cricklewood Library, Kensal Rise Library, Barham Library and Preston Library.  All these "libraries" are organisations operating in Brent and claim to be offering library services, although I am not sure how far they actually do so.  Indeed I am not sure that it is even possible to run a volunteer run library on a sustainable basis in all but a very particular set of circumstances.

The point was a major reason for the legal challenge to Brent Council over implementing the Libraries Transformation Project.

I wonder what caused this change of heart?

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Second Screen at the Lexi?

The Lexi is planning to apply for a second cinema screen at its Chamberlayne Road site.  As far as I can work out from the sketch plans I have seen it would be towards the back of the current cinema.  Rather oddly they don't seem to include any description of the proposal on their web site.

As I understand it multi-screen cinemas are seen as the key to commercial viability in the industry.

The Cinema is hoping to show public support via a petition.  They are also hoping that Brent Council will support the scheme via a large grant of taxpayers money. 

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Brent's Journey to Justice

Today Brent Museum should be hosting a history of political protests called "Brent's Journey to Justice."  It also features the work of contemporary artists.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Welsh Harp Education Centre

A reminder about sometimes "Council Cuts" can be turned to good account is the Welsh Harp Education Centre. This was proposed for closure in both 2011 and 2015, but is now operating without any Council funding, thanks to being transferred to Thames21.  Proof that a simple "just say no" approach is misguided.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

The Queensbury is Back

The Queensbury development is coming back to Brent Planning Committee on 19 June.  The Queensbury has a long and bitter history of argument.  My own view is that the current application is a great improvement on previous ones.

Officers have recommended approval. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The Absurdity of a No Deal Brexit

The ridiculousness of our national debate on Brexit never seems to hit rock bottom.  I wonder how many of those who demand a "no deal" Brexit on 31 October actually realise that if we crashed out without a deal, we would go back to the EU the next and say "now we would like to do a deal".  That is the problem with political suicide, you always wake up the next morning.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

What has Happened to the Foreign Office?

There are reports of a growing confrontation between Scotland and the Republic of Ireland over fishing rights around Rockall, an island that the UK annexed in 1955.  This is currently being led by the administration in Holyrood, where Fiona Hyslop MSP, "minister for external affairs" no less,  is sending vessels to warn the Irish off.

Since foreign affairs are a reserved matter, why is this not the province of the Foreign Office?  Indeed why does Holyrood have a minister of external affairs?  Does the UK government not recognise the independence of the Republic, and shouldn't it be handling any disputes whilst the Irish/British relationship is so sensitive as a result of Brexit?

It does generally illustrate the general uselessness of the government at Westminster.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Brent Gambles on the Voluntary Sector

Brent Council is apparently considering staking its money on a community lottery.  The proceeds will supposedly go the voluntary sector, although if you look at the detail of the report only 50% of the proceeds are earmarked in that direction.  The Council's reports suggests that the contract for the new scheme should be passed without a normal tendering process, and that the favoured company should rake in no less than 40% of the proceeds.  The final 10% would be taken by the Council itself. 

I find all this frankly repugnant.  Gambling is inherently fraudulent because the organisation operating it has to fix the odds against the users disadvantage.  Brent itself has a huge gambling problem, with a heavy concentration of betting shops that are deeply unpopular with local residents.  Reducing gambling has been an aim of progressive campaigners for years, because it is known to ruin peoples lives.  For Brent Council to start promoting gambling is firstly a mockery of previous attempts to restrict gambling and secondly a moral abnegation.   

Cheating your residents out of their money is no way for a proper public authority to behave.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Something Fishy at The Queensbury

Brent Council is accused of missing various deadlines in the run up to a planning inquiry on the Queensbury pub in Willesden.  Together with the strange situation further along Willesden High Road, I get a sense of unease about what Brent is doing. 

The Planning Committee appears to have decided to oppose both applications.  The Council officers are now required to oppose them whatever their private opinions may be.  I pointed this out long ago relating to another case.  Of course, it is open to the Inspector to decide whether he agrees, but the Council officers have no choice but to defend the Committe's decision.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Brent Council Turns Cooperative

With little fanfare, Brent has become a Cooperative Council, that is part of the Co-operative Councils' Innovation Network, a group of Councils that seek to apply Cooperative principles to Council affairs.  The CCIN states these principles as:

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.  In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

As Chair of the Brent & Harrow Cooperative Party, I obviously welcome the Councils' conversion, and I shall be fascinated to see how these principles are brought into practice.  

Friday, 7 June 2019

Low Take Up of European Votes in Brent

A sidelight in the Guardian relating to the shockingly low take up of votes in the recent European Parliament elections says that:

"In Brent in north-west London, which has the highest number of EU nationals in the country, only 20.74% of voters who were sent the forms by the council returned them on time."

Remember that Brent has around 15% of its registered voters as EU nationals, rising to 23% in Alperton.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Deserved Praise for Brent Libraries

Nice to see some unaffected praise for Brent libraries from  Joseph Coelho.  He he specifically visited Kilburn and Willesden libraries, both beneficiaries of the Libraries Transformation Project; one as a major refurbishment and the other as a completely new build.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Harlesden Area Action at the Royal Oak

The next meeting of the Harlesden Area Action group, which is behind the Neighbourhood Plan successfully voted through last week, is meeting next on Saturday 8 June at the Royal Oak in Harlesden High Street. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

The Fallacy of Community

Preston Community Library has illustrated a major fallacy with their previous campaign as a result of the planning process over what to do with that building next.  As with most such campaigns, it claimed to represent "the community" as having a single view.

In fact a community of any size will have various views on any subject.  We have seen during the Brexit process that seeking to drown out opposing views on the pretence that there is only one "will of the people" is a thoroughly divisive tactic.  Politics exists precisely to create compromises in such disputes. 

Incidentally, I see no reason to rescind the comments I made on Brent Council's position on this building or its status as a community asset

Monday, 3 June 2019

How Things Used to be

A short reminder of how race relations used to work can be found in the Brent Archives in an item covering the British Empire Exhibition.  Black people from Africa were actually imported and expected to act out "traditional African activities" so that the crowds of sightseers could gawp at them.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Labour Party Election Organisation

The coverage of the Labour Party's failure in the recent European elections (the lowest showing in a national poll since December 2010) has rightly concentrated on the incompetent triangulation policy on Brexit, but I also wonder about the organisational side of things.

I have heard accusations that there was an extreme, controlling element at the centre that frankly failed to do very basic things like proof read properly.  If so that is a damning indictment of the wholesale reorganisation that followed Iain McNicol's departure in early 2018.  Since then Labour has had a poor showing in the local elections and a worse showing in the European elections.  If the Party has been rendered incapable of the kind of campaign basics that in the 2017 General Election it just took in its stride, that bodes very ill for any future election prospects.

Yesterday's Times poll showing a Liberal Democrat surge may well only be temporary but unless Labour sorts itself out on the Brexit message and the organisational side, it could be in terminal trouble.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Harlesden Neighbourhood Plan Voting

Altogether 1,274 people voted on the Harlesden Neighbourhood Plan, which is not at all bad for such and abstruse subject.  Just over 89% of votes were in favour.